Joel C. Cantor, Carl Van Horn

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a source of unprecedented stress and uncertainty across the US and globally. And we know that some groups including minorities, women, and older individuals have experienced much greater difficulty than others, exacerbating long-standing inequities in health and well-being.

One group of significant concern are those who suddenly lost their jobs due to the pandemic. When adverse economic and social circumstances interact biological processes, the harms can be greater than the sum the individual forces, something epidemiologists call “syndemics”, that is synergistic epidemics.

Our Policy Lab project is examining one syndemic nexus – the effect of unemployment during the pandemic on mental health. It is well documented that losing work can lead to diminished mental health, and, in turn, that worsening mental health can interfere with an effective job search and the likelihood of reemployment. We are looking at the potential for linking mental health supports with state unemployment insurance programs for improving mental health and reemployment outcomes.

Using new Census Household Pulse data, we are analyzing rates of anxiety and depression by employment status. The study is just getting underway, but data from mid-2021 reveals that adverse mental health conditions are nearly twice as common among unemployed adults than those who kept their jobs. Additional analysis will examine groups that are especially at risk of long-term unemployment, and what potential there might be to help them improve their mental health, and ultimately return to the workforce.